If you had looked at the images on some of his earliest issues, you’d never guess he’d become one of the most successful coaches in NBA history. Long hair, long mustache. A little counter-culture vibe. Inside, though, was the blossoming mind of a man who would guide greatness. Phil Jackson basketball cards stretch from his 1970s playing days to his button-down look as an 11-time championship coach.
While much of the talk surrounding ESPN’s The Last Dance rightfully centers on Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman and others on the Chicago Bulls championship teams, it was Jackson who got them to the mountain–and kept them there.
The Phil File
Drafted by the New York Knicks out of the University of North Dakota in 1967, Jackson quickly became a contributor, although it was primarily in a bench role for much of his career there. Jackson was sort of the Knicks’ own Dennis Rodman, a scrappy, aggressive player who didn’t bring instant offense but did everything else well. Only twice in his 13-year career did he average more than 20 minutes per game. His totals inclued 5,428 points and 3,454 rebounds.
Phil Jackson Rookie Card
It took five seasons for a Phil Jackson rookie card to emerge. Topps stuck primarily to the starters during its earliest years after becoming a long-term NBA trading card partner. Finally, in 1972-73, Knicks fans found a card of one of their favorite players in a season in which they won what remains their last NBA championship.
Licensing issues forced Jackson and other players to turn their shirts around for card photos.
Today, Jackson’s rookie card is among the more sought after cards in the set, one that also has Julius Erving’s first card. The card is often plagued by centering issues and higher-grade examples can be quite expensive. If you’re not too fussy though, you can usually find a Jackson rookie on eBay in good shape for around $50.
Other Vintage Cards
After that first appearance, Jackson became more of a regular in Topps sets for the next several years. He became a starter after the ’73 season. His 1973-74 Topps card is quite a bargain, with very nice copies available for under $20–not bad for a Hall of Famer’s second year issue.
Jackson had his best pro season as a player in 1974-75 when he averaged 10.8 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. He also tied for the lead in personal fouls with a whopping 330. Interestingly, his Topps cards in 1974-75 and ’75-76 picture him standing on defense. Cheaper still than his two previous cards, most ungraded examples are less than $10.
If you’re looking for Jackson’s best looking card, we’re all in on the 1976-77 Topps. The last card from the playing career of “Action Jackson” is an action shot that shows him executing a hook shot over fellow Hall of Famer Wes Unseld.
The cards are gigantic in size and the set’s popularity pushes the price of this one a little higher, but it’s still not expensive.
After joining the New Jersey Nets, Jackson disappeared from basketball cards as Topps shrunk the number of cards in its yearly issues in the late 70s.
Jackson appears on another notable set from his playing days with the Knicks. New York-based Carvel Ice Cream’s disc card set from 1975 includes an artist’s take on Jackson’s 70s look.
There are multiple color variations but there’s an ample supply of all, which keeps prices down and for about the price of a gallon of milk, it’s a classic worth picking up.
Jackson’s arrival as head coach of the Bulls coincided with the expanded number of manufacturers and larger checklists in the NBA trading card market. He was back on cardboard in the 1989-90 Hoops set–the first to print cards of the league’s coaches. He had two cards in the 1990-91 set, one picturing him as a player.
Throughout his tenure as coach of the Bulls in the 90s, Jackson showed up in numerous sets from Hoops, Skybox and Fleer. Most can be had for no more than a buck or two.
While coaches cards began to fade during Jackson’s tenure as coach of the Lakers from 1999-2004, he can still be found in a few products issued by Panini in recent years but hasn’t been much of an active signer. Thanks to 2013-14 Totally Certified, we even get to see him as a member of the Nets.
While he wouldn’t have made the Hall of Fame as a player, Jackson’s 11 NBA championship rings certainly make him worthy of a place in Springfield and his checklist of cards is small enough that trying to grab a complete, career-defining collection is a reasonable goal.